Why do CEOs use Groome's RE method?

Why do CEOs use Groome's RE method?

AD2000 Report

In February 2004, the Director of the Diocese of Sale Catholic Education Office published a document (Bulletin, No 4) reporting on the diocese's involvement in an Inter-Diocesan Religious Education Project with the Archdiocese of Hobart and the dioceses of Ballarat and Sandhurst.

The Bulletin gave the purpose of the project as the production of new RE curricula. It added that the RE curriculum of the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn had been chosen as "an appropriate curriculum to serve as a base upon which to build" the new curricula. Details of this curriculum are available on the Internet at www.ceo.cg.catholic.edu.au/

Titled Treasures New and Old, the Canberra curriculum rests heavily on the method of RE teaching pioneered by the well-known American dissenter, Thomas Groome, which he calls "Shared Christian Praxis".

In fact, many Australian Catholic Education Offices are currently using this method as a basis for their RE programs. This is despite the availability of excellent texts for all class levels produced over the past decade in the Melbourne and Sydney archdioceses, and now used in the dioceses of Armidale, Lismore and Wollongong.

Under the heading, "A Well- Groomed Curriculum," the Sale Bulletin says, "This curriculum will be based on the Shared Christian Praxis approach developed by Thomas Groome." RE curricula for the dioceses of Wagga Wagga, Wilcannia- Forbes and Parramatta are also tied to this method.

Since this method involves critical questioning of the Church's doctrinal, moral, liturgical and juridical traditions it is not surprising that contradictions of Catholic teachings appear in curriculum materials produced by the Canberra CEO for the implementation of Treasures New and Old.

The problems begin in the program's "Core Document and Syllabus Statement" where the only time the Holy Trinity is designated as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is in an appendix. Otherwise, wherever the Holy Trinity is referred to, it is always as "God: Communion of Love, Source of all Being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit."

This absence of references to "the Father" and "the Son" when talking about the first and second Persons of the Holy Trinity is not surprising given Groome's espousal of inclusive language for statements of faith.

Regarding the Trinity, he says, "A formula that might more adequately represent our faith in the triune relationship within the Godhead ... is suggested by an inclusive language breviary text which prays 'Glory to you, Source of all Being, Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit'."

In his book Sharing Faith, which is a key source for Treasures New and Old, Groome refers to the first Person of the Holy Trinity as "God the Father/Mother", while under a section headed "Theological Background for Teachers" of a Stage 5 (Year 11) Unit Outline we read, "Many images of God emerged within a pre-scientific worldview and antiquated theological models. Today theologians call for the deconstruction of limited metaphors and for the development of new metaphors for God, e.g., God as mother, lover, friend."

Implementing syllabus

The Unit Outlines, which the Core curriculum document says represent "Resources developed to assist teachers to implement the syllabus" (p. 92), contain a number of questionable statements and recommended references.

For example, a Stage Four (Year 8) Unit Outline, titled "Jesus the Human Face of God," includes under a section headed "Key Understandings For Students", "Jesus was not born knowing he was the Son of God. Jesus' understanding of who he was as Son of God and what it means to be fully human had to grow and develop just like ours."

Whether these statements are true or false is a matter of conjecture. But they have never been part of the Church's teaching.

A reference book featuring prominently in a Stage 6 (Year 12) Unit is titled Rome Has Spoken. These words, first used by St Augustine, are used to refer to the infallibility of the Church in matters of faith and morals. In this instance, the words are used to raise doubts about the Church's infallibility.

The book carries the subtitle A Guide to Forgotten Papal Statements and How They Have Changed Through the Centuries and is edited by Sr Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben.

Sr Fiedler, a Loreto nun, was one of the signatories to an advertisement placed in the New York Times in 1984 by Catholics For A Free Choice (CFFC) which claimed there was no binding Catholic teaching forbidding procured abortion. CFFC is also opposed to Church teaching on contraception and homosexual activity and in more recent years campaigned to have the Holy See expelled from the United Nations.

Regarding papal authority and the way it was exercised by John Paul II, Sr Fiedler says in the introduction to Rome Has Spoken, "Within the Church, his doctrinal orthodoxy and repression of dissent have threatened free theological development. His centralisation of church authority has undermined the collegial policies envisioned by Vatican II" (p. 6).

The Stage 6 Unit Outline, which draws extensively on Rome Has Spoken, is titled "The Church's Developing Tradition". It claims definitive Church teaching on various questions can be or has changed over time in ways involving a contradiction of received teaching.

Under a section headed "Key Understandings For Students," the Unit Outline is ambiguous about the nature of divine revelation, saying, "The Church must continually grow in faithful response to God's ongoing revelation in time. God's revelation occurred in the past and continues throughout history in world events, in the lives of human beings, in the life of the Church community etc."

In regard to this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "God has revealed himself fully by sending his own Son É The Son is the Father's definitive Word; so there will be no further Revelation after him" (n. 73).

Under a section titled "The Exercise of Papal Authority", the same Unit Outline claims that "Pope John Paul II and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) have moved back to the first Vatican Council's more rigid concept of Papal authority". In fact Vatican II reaffirmed Vatican I's understanding of papal authority, e.g., Lumen Gentium, 18.

In Rome Has Spoken, Sr Fiedler states that, since the Church's beginning, "the patriarchal tradition has been in constant struggle with the egalitarian tradition" (p. 120). After suggesting St Paul's writings contain "contradictory state- ments" reflecting the struggle of these traditions," Sr Fiedler adds, "Jesus in the gospel represented the egalitarian ideal emphasising love and ministerial service rather than law and tradition É Since he never ordained anyone - male or female - to a 'ministerial priesthood' as we understand it today, his counter- cultural attitude toward gender roles suggests that he intended women to minister in the community as the equals of men" (p. 121).

In a Stage 6 (Year 12) Unit on Sacraments, the writing of another American dissenter, Fr Richard McBrien, is recommended, i.e., "Teacher input on ministry which could come from McBrien, R. (1988), Ministry."

In Ministry, Fr McBrien claims that "in the early Church there was no hard-and-fast distinction between clergy and laity," and that this distinction only began to develop "with the establishment of Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century" (p. 33). He then accuses Vatican II of "ambiguity" in its teaching that the ministerial and common priesthoods differ in "essence" and not just in degree (pp. 43-44).

The Unit Outlines also recommend that teachers consult the 1994 revised edition of McBrien's book Catholicism as a reference when acquiring information for "Key Understandings For Students."

However, in 1996, the National Conference of the Catholic Bishops' Committee on Doctrine in the US censured this edition for "certain shortcomings", including his treatment of the Virgin Birth of Jesus, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the ordination of women, his treatment of moral issues such as homosexuality and contraception, and about his tendency to place the teaching of the Church on the same level as the opinion of dissenting theologians.

The Theological Background for Teachers section of a Stage 4 Unit "Outline on Sacraments" frequently cites from a book by yet another American dissenter, Monika Hellwig. Her book, Understanding Catholicism (2002), includes the claim, "The New Testament really only distinguishes two sacraments - Baptism and Eucharist. Slowly, over time, there grew out of Church tradition the idea of seven sacraments É (Hellwig, 2002, p. 147)."

This is wrong. It has been the unbroken teaching of the Church, affirmed in the Catechism, which states (n. 1117), "there are seven that are, in the strict sense of the term, sacraments instituted by the Lord".

John Paul II

In Catechesi Tradendae, John Paul II stated that those receiving religious education "have the right to receive 'the word of faith' not in a mutilated, falsified or diminished form but whole and entire, in all its rigour and vigour." He then stressed the importance of not giving young people the idea that the doctrine of the faith is based on "fallible opinions or in uncertainty," but rather that we must "show them" how it is based on the "immovable rock" of the Word of God "who cannot deceive or be deceived."

The methodology adopted to implement an RE curriculum must therefore be consistent with the doctrinal affirmations present in it. John Paul identifies in Catechesi Tradendae the criteria that should govern the choice of catechetical methods. "The choice", he says, "will be a valid one to the extent that, far from being dictated by more or less subjective theories or prejudices stamped with a certain ideology, it is inspired by the humble concern to stay closer to a content that must remain intact."

By contrast, in his book Sharing Faith, Thomas Groome presents an approach to religious education clearly opposed to the doctrinal element in Catholicism. He states, "Religious educators should approach the faith tradition with a healthy suspicion and, as educators, help people to recognise that 'much that has been proudly told must be confessed as sin; and much that has been obscured and silenced must be given voice'" (p. 233).

Groome structures his method of Shared Christian Praxis to apply what he calls a "hermeneutic of suspicion" to Catholic doctrine, advising against any presentation of the faith in the form of doctrinal propositions.

In Sharing Faith he says, "Revelation as doctrine" which "understands revelation as 'divinely authoritative doctrine inerrantly proposed as God's word by the Bible or by official Church teaching' ... is not appropriate to movement 3 of shared Christian praxis" (pp. 218- 19).

Groome's dissent from Church teachings is evident in Sharing Faith in regard to the direct succession of the later popes from St Peter, a male- only priesthood, the difference in "essence" between the common priesthood of all the baptised and the ministerial priesthood, and the commissioning of the apostles at the Last Supper to preside at the Eucharist.

Overall, a major defect of Canberra's Treasures New and Old is the way its Unit Outlines refer to or reproduce material from the works of dissenters. And while such material is given in the main body of the Outlines, references to the Catechism appear only in the margins.

Despite this, the Core document for Treasures New and Old carries an imprimatur while praising Groome's RE method of Shared Christian Praxis and recommending his book Sharing Faith.

With the present miniscule level of faith practice among Catholic school leavers it is beyond belief, after decades of failed cate- chetical experiments, that any Australian diocese would even contemplate drawing upon Groome's method for its RE curriculum.

A more productive exercise for the CEOs concerned would be to redirect the "hermeneutic of suspicion" away from Church teachings and onto Thomas Groome himself. At the same time they should look elsewhere for sounder ways of teaching the faith to young Catholics.

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